Last week the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) devoted much space in their newspaper, the Guardian, to attacking Mr. Dean Flowers, the first vice-president of the Public Service Union (PSU). Mr. Flowers had been keeping the nation informed about negotiations between the public sector unions and the government in respect to a request/demand by the government that they give up their increments for this fiscal year. Reports are that the public sector unions have since yielded to the government.
The author of the article, titled “PSU executive fleecing government?”, while accepting that there might be some validity to the unions’ position that certain practices of government result in waste of the people’s monies, singled out Mr. Flowers as one who has benefited immensely from government’s largesse, and went on to suggest that he has been railing about government’s waste because he is disgruntled over a cleaning contract his sister had with government that was not renewed.
In these desperate days of COVID-19, it is very disappointing that the government used its newspaper, not to spot the light on the union’s message, but to try and discredit the messenger. Our little nation is crumbling before our eyes, while our political leaders sharpen their art of keeping the people off the message.
The UDP’s/Guardian’s story doesn’t emanate from ignorance; it is calculated to appeal to our baser instincts so that we put aside what the public sector unions were/are tasking the government to do.
The UDP has mastered the art of killing the messenger; Belize’s landscape is literally strewn with their victims. If anyone puts forward a message that challenges the way the UDP runs the country, their personal lives are splattered and muddied, and if that isn’t sufficient, the person is branded as an agent for a rival political party. It is a wonder that they didn’t brand Mr. Flowers as a PUP, or a third party agent.
On Tuesday, the host and co-host of the Krem WuB show suggested to Mr. Flowers that the unions had yielded without getting the government to concede much on their demands, and he responded that their fight is difficult, that they need help because “the workers are few.” Indeed, the workers are few. Where are the workers to help hold our political leaders’ feet to the fire, so that they do the right thing for the people? They are cowering in corners, living in fear that if they make a peep the vindictive government will come after them, not to discuss their message, but to berate the messenger.
The measures the public sector unions put forward to reduce the stress on our dwindling finances won’t achieve that much in the short term, but over time considerable savings could be realized. In these days of COVID19, when the government is scrambling to make ends meet, they still have chosen to put their party over the country.
The Belizean people have been coming in second for too long. We should say we’ve always been coming in second. In the colonial days there was no doubt about our place in the society. In the 20th century we moved to unshackle ourselves from our colonial past, just so that we could be first in our country, but our political leaders insist that this is not to be. Every idea, new or old, that could direct more of the people’s resources into the service of the people, they quash. Their method is simple: attack the messenger.
Nigel Petillo envisages another Harmonyville
The present Prime Minister once described the Ministry of Natural Resources as a “hotbed of corruption”, and we have not yet heard a single person disagree with him.
There are the above-board transactions taking place every day at the ministry; however, many Belizeans say the system is unfair to regular folk, that it is biased in favor of persons who are connected to the major political parties, and wealthy foreigners. There are also the daily below-board transactions, one of which involves scouts inside the department who ferret out lands whose owners are delinquent in taxes, and these they funnel to land speculators and persons who are favored by the party in power.
It appeared that the scouts had come upon a choice tract, a reported 2,600 acres of land in a prime location with road frontage, at Mile 44 on the George Price Highway, and that Mr. Nigel Petillo sniffed it out and saw visions of another Harmonyville, which is a project that he and the group BGYEA (Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association) realized on a sizable abandoned tract in a prime location, with highway frontage.
Mr. Petillo and his friends sent out a call to the nation, and from near and far Belizeans turned up at the site to declare their interests in owning a one-acre lot.
It has since come to public notice that the government has control of half of the property, which it supposedly acquired for a public purpose. A representative of a private company claims that they have clear ownership of the remaining 1300 acres.
If it is really so that half of the property is out of the reach of the hundreds of Belizeans who turned up to express their interest in the property at a meeting called by Mr. Petillo last Sunday, there might still be possibilities on 1300 acres.
Aside from the charge that Belizeans might have gathered at the site contrary to the regulations to prevent the spread of COVID19 (that is a serious but different discussion), and in light of the disappointing land policies of our present government and past governments stretching into our colonial past, it is a brilliant idea in these desperate days of COVID-19 that land be distributed to Belizeans who are in need of land to produce food to supplement their meager earnings.
Belize has over 5 million acres of land; surely every able-bodied adult Belizean can own a one-acre plot between the Hondo and the Sarstoon. Our people’s needs are immediate and long-term. In the immediate the government must find land that is not too difficult to access for these hundreds of Belizeans so that they can start a farming project.
To boost the project the government should lend some of the considerable management talent that resides in the public service. The government should put in dirt roads so that all the plots are fairly accessible. We are in the wet season, so farmers would be able to collect water when it rains; however, the government should also put in water mains. Transportation is very costly in Belize, so the government could help the group acquire some buses to transport those who live far from the area. The government could also help by providing seeds and technical advice.
In these days of COVID-19, what a blessing it would be to have 2,000 plus families working their plots, freed up somewhat from stress by being gainfully employed, physically distancing as only people living in the countryside can, and growing 3-month, 6- month, 9-month, and perennial crops to feed hungry mouths in our land.